It's probably no surprise that consumers say companies like Amazon, Apple and Dyson are among the most innovative. But the newest Most Innovative Brands survey from Brand Keys is flooded with companies that have never made the list before, including D2C names like Airbnb, Allbirds, Chewy, Warby Parker and Everlane.
"For the first time in the 20 years of the survey, consumers added a new sector," says Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president, in the report. The rise of these D2C favorites "indicate significant changes in consumer perception of brand innovation leadership."
Of the top 50 brands, 38% are new to this year's list. Brand Keys says this is the only innovation ranking based on consumer perception of brand innovation, as opposed to those drawn from business and design perceptions.
And the public pays little attention to other measures of success, like whether a company is profitable or how many patents it has. They're simply reacting to novelty that seems most relevant to them.
"Consumers are the ultimate jury,"Passikoff says. "Brands need to recognize those expectations are the gateway to meaningful innovation."
Sometimes people notice innovation right away: Open AI is the most-mentioned in the tech category. Other brands have been kicking around for centuries, like Colgate. Yet both brands are new to the list this year. Other newcomers include companies like Caulipower, Peloton, Uber and Zipcar.
The findings are based on a national sample of 8,100 consumers aged 16 to 65. They were asked to name the companies they felt had been most innovative this year.
The 50-most mentioned companies broke into nine groups. For D2C, it was Allbirds, Chewy, Wayfair, Everlane and Bonobos. In software, newcomers include Airbnb, Adobe, Intuit and Squarespace.
Other categories includes consumer goods, led by Amazon; media and entertainment, with Hulu in first place; and social networks, with TikTok getting the most mentions. Pringles comes in first in food and beverage, while Ford leads transportation.
"Consumers can't always articulate what form they want innovation to take," Passikoff says. "But a brand that can accurately measure what consumers emotionally expect, then address those expectations via innovation, will have an enormous advantage over the competition."
Brands that came close but didn't make the Top 50 include Casper, Fitbit, Tesla, Impossible Foods, and Dropbox.